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Erdogan warns Kurds to complete Syria retreat

October 22, 2019

Russian President Vladimir Putin has welcomed his Turkish counterpart for talks on the future of the Syrian conflict. Moscow is seeking to cement its role as a power broker in the Middle East.

Erdogan and Putin
Image: Reuters/S. Chirikov

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan began talks on Syria with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, on Tuesday.

"I believe this meeting will benefit the region, which is going through critical days," Erdogan said.

Putin expressed hope that the close ties between their countries would "facilitate solutions" to the Syrian conflict.

Before the meeting, Erdogan warned Kurdish YPG militia to withdraw from areas in Syria ahead of the expiry of a five-day US-brokered ceasefire.

The Kurdish YPG militia was expected to initially withdraw from a 120-kilometer (75-mile) strip of the border with Turkey as part of the deal. The ceasefire ends at 10 p.m. local time (1900 UTC).

Read more: Erdogan spokesman: Europeans 'should be thankful to our soldiers'

"Today is the last day for all terrorists in the region to leave," said Erdogan. Turkey wants to control a larger safe zone, extending along a 400-kilometer-long strip.

Speaking before his departure for the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Erdogan said he would discuss the fate of towns in northeastern Syria that forces loyal to Damascus had entered.

Erdogan spokesman talks to DW

The Kremlin said Putin was keen to find out more about Turkey's plans. Spokesman Dmitry Peskov also said Moscow would study a "new idea" by German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer to create an internationally controlled security zone in northern Syria.

Ankara and Moscow say the talks are aimed at "normalizing the situation in Syria," where — despite supporting opposing sides — the two have indicated that they share some common ground. 

Turkey, which is allied to Turkmen and Arab rebel groups in Syria, launched a cross-border offensive earlier this month against Kurdish fighters it describes as "terrorists."

Room for agreement

Russia — the strongest military backer of the Syrian state under President Bashar Assad — has traditionally opposed operations by other states in what it considers Syria's sovereign territory.

However, both sides have said they support the idea of civilian safe zones in northern Syria, and Turkey has ruffled the feathers of NATO allies by purchasing a powerful Russian anti-aircraft system, the S-400.

Despite improving relations with Ankara, Moscow has expressed concern that Turkey's incursion has helped jihadis who were in custody in Kurdish-controlled areas to escape. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu on Monday said there were concerns that battle-hardened terrorists could return to their homelands, including Russia.

Read more: Opinion: Donald Trump's tricky Syria 'gift' to Vladimir Putin

Meanwhile, Assad on Tuesday vowed to reunite all of the country under the control of Damascus, and said he was ready to support any "popular resistance" against Turkey's actions. He made the comments on a visit to areas in Idlib province recently retaken by Syrian government forces from Turkey-backed rebels.

Russia's efforts to exert more influence in the region come at the same time the United States withdraws its troops from northern Syria.

rc/rt (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)

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